By Paul Courson
There has been little improvement in religious freedom worldwide but some positive changes were seen in Turkey and Vietnam, according to an annual State Department survey of nearly 200 countries.
Secretary of State John Kerry, a former U.S. senator who helped push the law mandating the original report 15 years ago, helped announce the findings on Monday in the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
"This report is a clear-eyed, objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world. And when necessary, yes, it does directly call out some of our close friends, as well as some countries with whom we seek stronger ties."
Government repression in China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia has kept all three countries on a list the report calls "Countries of Particular Concern."
U.S. Ambassador-at-large Suzan Johnson Cook said positive developments were found in Turkey, where restrictions have been relaxed on religious clothing, and in Vietnam, where the government has begun allowing large religious gatherings of 100,000 people or more.
But a ranking Republican says Vietnam deserves a tougher assessment.
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said "religious freedom remains under attack in Vietnam."
In a statement issued soon after the report, he said "the Communist government in Vietnam has denied its people the most basic freedoms."
Royce has introduced legislation calling on the State Department to restore a negative status for Vietnam by again listing it as a Country of Particular Concern.
In the report, China was cited for a "pervasive" government campaign against freedom of religion, involving detention, surveillance and other techniques of repression.
And the report said North Korea in 2012 "dealt harshly with all opponents," and discouraged organized religious activities.
Kerry said governments that are behind repression hurt their own stability and are a risk to other countries.
"Attacks on religious freedom," Kerry said, are "both a moral and a strategic national security concern for the United States."